Fashion: a sector known for influencing trends, creatives and perhaps the future of equity for Black entrepreneurs.
Last week was the second Fifteen Percent Pledge gala, hosted by the nonprofit of the same name, to honor Black entrepreneurship and the organization’s efforts to increase equity in the fashion industry.
The nonprofit stems from a callout that designer Aurora James posted in 2020, urging retailers to stock at least 15% of their shelves with items from Black-owned businesses. (This number isn’t arbitrary; Black people make up about 15% of the U.S. population.) That callout turned into a pledge, then into a nonprofit working with 29 retailers — including Yelp, Rent the Runway, Sephora and Nordstrom — that claims to have shifted over $10 billion worth of opportunities to the Black community since its launch three years ago.
The pledge has boosted opportunities for Black entrepreneurs. The foundation itself launched a Google-sponsored marketplace. At the gala, it gave out more than $250,000 worth of grants to Black businesses, a life-changing sum for many. The average Black business begins with around $35,000, compared to around $100,000 for the average white founder. Their efforts in venture capital are equally as harrowing, and most of their businesses do not survive the startup stage.
“I’m also a descendant of people who were enslaved in this country. A program like that might be the closest thing I’ll see to reparations in my lifetime.” Mec Zilla, founder